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July 06, 2012

Birth control draws bishops into debate

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops organized 12 lawsuits across the country to challenge the birth control mandate in the healthcare law. (rlw/bg/Bill Greenblatt UPI)

WASHINGTON (UPI) -- Efforts to overturn the birth control mandate in the healthcare law raise questions about how assertive U.S. Catholic bishops can be, observers said.

"Fortnight for Freedom," organized by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, capped its two-week campaign Wednesday with a celebration at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

Bishops also helped to organize about 12 lawsuits filed across the country that challenge the law's mandate that healthcare plans include contraceptive services. Fifty-six plaintiffs have filed 23 lawsuits against the Health and Human Services Department mandate, including three Protestant educational institutions.

"We have seen an incredible intensity on this issue," said Maureen Ferguson, a senior policy adviser at the Catholic Association, told Roll Call in an article published Thursday.

But the campaign against the contraceptive mandate has drawn criticism from progressive Catholics, watchdog groups and some bishops, Roll Call reported. Bishop Stephen E. Blaire, sitting in Stockton, Calif., told a Catholic newspaper in May "different groups … are trying to co-opt this and make it into a political issue."

Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said the bishops' actions also draw focus to tax rules barring charities from partisan politics.

"The bishops have been far from even-handed in their political activities," Lynn told reporters last month. "At some point, it may raise questions about compliance with federal tax law, which forbids [charitable] tax-exempt organizations from favoring or opposing candidates for public office."

The bishops maintain "Fortnight for Freedom" is about prayer, not politics.

"It's important to say the struggle we are engaging in here is not a partisan issue," Baltimore Archbishop William Lori said in June. "We didn't choose the time. We didn't choose the place."

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